Colonial IU 20: Helping school support staff "educate the whole child

In-service days are an education mainstay, helping teachers sharpen their classroom skills and deepen their content knowledge.

But Colonial IU 20 has learned that its 13 school districts often lack the resources to extend high-quality, cost-effective in-service training to the aides and paraprofessionals who work one-on-one with students. That prompted IU 20 to create its annual IU-wide training every Columbus Day, running simultaneously with districts’ in-service programs.

The program attracts about 400 educators. Some are teachers outside the core areas of math, science, social studies and English/language arts, but most are aides “yearning for any sort of help they can give in the classroom,” says Professional Development Coordinator Julie Eates.

Today’s paraprofessionals “want to educate the whole child,” helping students overcome challenges in the home and outside the classroom that block their path to academic success, Eates says. Their feedback helped shape the IU-wide in-service event into its current format. In earlier years, many sessions focused on the content being taught in classrooms, but 2016’s most popular topics addressed those outside issues, including dealing with grief, substance abuse, dysfunctional families, suicide awareness, mindfulness, and collaboration.

School administrators “rely on this day” to educate support staff in pressing topics, says Director of Professional Learning and Curriculum Michelle Bozzini. “Many of the schools find this IU-wide day incredibly valuable because they have fewer resources to focus their in-service days on classroom support staff.”

School support staff, in turn, “really look forward” to the annual event, Bozzini adds. In their feedback, they have called the sessions “interesting and informative,” said presenters “kept you involved and interested,” and reported learning “a lot of useful ideas that I can apply to some children in school.”

Many participants share their findings with their colleagues at school, or even inspire their districts to pursue an issue in more depth. One participant was so enthused about ideas for creating more inclusive classrooms that she remarked, “I am going to recommend to my administrator that we should have an extended version of this program at our district.”

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